Asalha Puja Day is another important day in Buddhism. It falls on the 15th waxing moon day of the 8th lunar month. Four events took place during the times of our Lord Buddha as follows.
1. It was the day of our Lord Buddha’s first sermon to the five ascetics in the forest of Isipatanamarugadivan near Benares.
2. It was the day of our Lord Buddha’s first disciple. His name was Kondañña, he became enlightened as the first Stream-Winner.
3. It was the day of the first Buddhist monk. The monk was Kondañña. After he had become a Stream-Winner, he requested an ordination. Our Lord Buddha ordained him as the first monk in Buddhism.
4. It is the birth date of the Triple Gem, which includes the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha or monks. The first witness to the Buddha’s Enlightenment had occurred. This completed the Lord Buddha’s Buddhahood. It meant that the Buddha did not attain Enlightenment and kept the Knowledge to Himself like a Silent Buddha.
Asalha Puja Day had its beginning as described below. After the Lord Buddha’s Enlightenment, He spent of a period of 7 weeks immersed in the Bliss of Emancipation. After this blissful period, He was concerned that His enlightened knowledge was so deep that it would be difficult for beings thick with defilements to follow. The Brahma King, Sahambodi, knew of the Buddha’s concern and requested Him to give a sermon because there were still beings with less dirt in their eyes.
With His great compassion, the Lord Buddha employed the Buddha-Vision to check all the beings that were still trapped in the Three Worlds. He saw that there were beings of low defilements, and some still thick with them. There were some whose merit was vast and others were still small. Some were easy to teach, others were not. Like the lotus plants that grew in water. Some grew in deep water, some were near the surface, and some were almost out of the water. Some were not ready to bloom, some were ready just like beings that could be taught. The Lord Buddha finally agreed to the Brahma King’s request.
After the Brahma King departed, the Lord Buddha began to consider to whom He should give the first sermon. Who could penetrate the Dhamma readily? He considered the ascetics Alara and Udaka who were brilliant and their defilements had been kept very low for a long while. They would be able to penetrate the Dhamma quickly once they heard His sermon.
One celestial being knew of the Lord Buddha’s intention, he descended from his celestial castle to inform the Lord Buddha that both ascetics had already dead. The Lord Buddha checked and found out that both ascetics had indeed dead. He thought, it was indeed their great misfortune because if they could only hear the Dhamma, they would penetrate it immediately. Afterward, He considered the 5 ascetics who were once very good to Him. They had attended to Him while he was still a Bodhisattva. Therefore, He went to see them at the forest.
When the ascetics spotted the Lord Buddha from afar, they agreed with one another, “Fellows, this monk Gautama is greedy. He has stopped practicing self–mortification and is coming here because of greed. Here he comes, we will not pay him respect, we will not get up to greet him, we will not take his alms–bowl and his robe for him, we will only prepare a cushioned seat just in case he wants to sit down.”
Once the Lord Buddha arrived, the Buddha-Power caused them to forget their agreement. They all got up to greet the Exalted One. One took His alms–bowl and robe, another prepared a cushioned seat. One prepared a foot bath, another placed a footstool by the seat, and one presented to the Buddha a foot-drying tile. The Lord Buddha sat on the cushioned seat then washed His feet. After having welcomed the Exalted One, the ascetics addressed Him inappropriately by using His name and an inferior title.
After having addressed the Exalted One thus, the Lord Buddha forbade the ascetics by saying, “Behold, ascetics, you must not address me by my name or by an inferior title. Behold, I, the Tathagata is an Arahant and have already attained Enlightenment on my own. Pay attention, I have penetrated the Dhamma. I shall teach. I shall preach the Dhamma. Once you have practiced according to my teaching soon you will penetrate an incomparable benefit, which is the ultimate of the Holy Life.”
After the Lord Buddha said these words, the ascetics had an immediate reaction. “Young Gautama, you once practiced self–mortification and could not even then attain Enlightenment. Now that you’ve become greedy and lax, how is it possible that you have attained Enlightenment and become a Buddha?”
After the ascetics expressed their view, the Lord Buddha said, “Behold, ascetics, the Tathagata is not greedy nor am I lax. I am here not because of greed. Behold, the Tathagata is an Arahant and has attained Enlightenment on my own. Pay attention, I have penetrate the Dhamma. I shall teach, I shall preach. Once you’ve practiced according to my teaching soon you will penetrate an incomparable benefit which is the ultimate of the Holy Life.” The Exalted One repeated these words 3 times. The Lord Buddha continued, “Behold, these words that were just uttered have never been spoken before. This is the very first time.”
Once the ascetics heard the Lord Buddha’s confirmation, they were then willing to listen and pay attention to His sermon. The Lord Buddha’s first sermon to the 5 ascetics was about two things that monks should not practice.
1) Being involved in all forms of sensual pleasure. This lowly nature belongs to commoners, to ordinary people. It does not belong to holy individuals. It has no benefit.
2) The practice of self–mortification is not the practice of holy individuals. It has no benefit.
The Lord Buddha then praised the Middle Path which led Him to attain Enlightenment. It includes the Noble Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths. At the end of the Sermon, the ascetic Kondañña understood what he heard and became enlightened as a Stream–Winner. He was able to attain the Dhammakaya. Therefore, this event marked the completion of the Triple Gem.
As a result of the first sermon, celestial beings in every realm from earth sprites to the Brahma beings all sang the Lord Buddha’s praises. The sound resonated through tens of thousands of universes and an incomparable brightness pervaded everywhere as a result of the celestial powers.
What we should do on Asalha Puja Day
Our forebears understood this thing well, so when Asalha Puja Day arrived, they preferred to go to the temple and listened to Dhammacakkappavattanasutta to revise all Buddhist Dhamma on which they could understand and appreciate more.
The Great Duty of the Real Men Whom We Want to Bow